Thursday, April 26, 2018
Education

Hillsborough school district postpones controversial discussion on speakers

TAMPA — Friday morning began with a celebration of the Hillsborough County School District's successes.

It ended with a decision not to discuss on Sept. 11 whether a Muslim advocacy group can send visitors to the schools.

"I do not want to dignify this discussion on that day," School Board member April Griffin said.

The special board meeting, called to name principals and assistant principals before school resumes Tuesday, followed superintendent MaryEllen Elia's back-to-school news conference.

Speaking at Rampello K-8 School, Elia showcased academics, career training, and financial moves that enabled the district to offer raises to this year to teachers and support employees.

"We haven't done layoffs, we haven't done forced furloughs and we have been able to keep the programming in place that has supported our students across the board," Elia said.

Criticized in the past for overemphasizing Advanced Placement courses, Elia showed improvement in test scores as the number of tests taken more than doubled since 2006.

Responding to concerns about students who are not college bound, Elia said more than 2,200 got industry certifications this year.

And despite abrupt changes this year to the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, almost two-thirds of elementary and middle schools received A and B grades from the state.

"It's been a turbulent transition," Elia said. "But I think we have to get beyond that and identify the good points in that and get ready to move toward the future."

Since mentors were added under Empowering Effective Teachers, retention of first-year teachers has climbed from 72 to 95 percent, Elia said.

A discussion about other aspects of EET happened at the board meeting. Teacher Michael Weston, who ran unsuccessfully for School Board, spoke on behalf of 18 teachers who might be terminated for having two consecutive unsatisfactory ratings.

They will not know for sure until the test-data portion of their evaluation is complete in late September. "This is what you should be having a special meeting about," Weston said.

Dan Valdez, deputy superintendent for human resources, said such firings happen every year, but before EET they happened in June. Elia, responding last week when Weston campaigned on the issue, sent an email assuring teachers that only a very, very few are affected by the possible terminations.

The meeting was almost over when Griffin raised the issue of guest speakers. It's something the board has wrestled with since November, when a representative of the Council on American-Islamic Relations visited Steinbrenner High School.

Members last week were about to call for parent notice of all school guests. They postponed the matter until the next meeting, which falls on Sept. 11. "I did not even realize the date and the importance of the date when I agreed to table that motion until Sept. 11," Griffin said Friday.

"I believe that this is a day that we should honor the fallen and I'd like to remain silent about this particular issue on that day."

Doretha Edgecomb withdrew her motion from the previous meeting, leaving the matter in limbo.

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